May 18, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 20
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Seattle forum marks Lambda Legal's day of action for workplace equality Equal Rights Washington hosts workshop and panel on Tuesday, May 15
Seattle forum marks Lambda Legal's day of action for workplace equality Equal Rights Washington hosts workshop and panel on Tuesday, May 15
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Equal Rights Washington hosted a workshop and panel discussion on Tuesday, May 15, at the Seattle Labor Temple to address the issue of workplace fairness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender workers. The event was one of several being held nationwide as part of Lambda Legal's "Clock In For Equality" campaign.

"We wanted to do a day of events across the nation to really put a strong emphasis on what a continuing need there is for work education and workplace equality issues," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli told the Seattle Gay News on Tuesday. "Doing events across the country in states that have great protection and states that have few protections is really important because each state has important work to be done - regardless of the current state of their law.

"It is important to say, in a unified way, that this remains a really critical issue in our community and that we are putting the proper attention on it and are really working to move people to action." Lambda Legal's Outreach Associate Adrián Acosta emceed the event. Equal Rights Washington's Advocacy Director Josh Friedes started off the panel by talking about the national landscape for LGBT workplace equality, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) under consideration in Congress.

"The program underscored the need to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act at the federal level," Friedes told the SGN after the event. "Today, just over half of people living in America today are covered by anti-discrimination laws. Many of these laws are not as broad as the Anderson-Murray law and do cover gender identity and expression or do not extend to matters like credit." "Passage of ENDA would be helpful in Washington State because current federal law preempts the Anderson-Murray law in certain areas. Passage of ENDA would mean, for example, that Federal employees in Washington State would have employment protections."

Borelli spoke about Lambda's work nationwide to secure equal treatment for LGBT workers. Bellevue firefighter and paramedic Larry deGroen shared his experience of workplace inequality and his role in a lawsuit against the City of Bellevue seeking to secure the same benefits as his heterosexual co-workers.

"It is also important to get the message out that everybody experiences discrimination and everyone puts up with a certain amount of discrimination. At some point, there is a trigger where you go over the edge," deGroen told the SGN before the event. "My heterosexual co-workers get paid at a different rate than I do. It is not the dollars per hour I get paid, it's the benefits and compensation; the intangible things that they all have access to that I don't have access to. The city refuses to give me access to it." Bellevue 911 dispatcher George Einsetler, also a plaintiff in the Bellevue lawsuit, deGroen et al. vs. City of Bellevue et. al., listened to the panel from the audience on Tuesday.

"A lot of people think of workplace discrimination as being about hiring or firing, promoting and demoting, but lack of benefits is also fundamentally about fair compensation, fair treatment," added Borelli. "It is important that we begin shifting the thinking to understand that workplace equality doesn't just include not getting fired, it also includes not getting paid equally. "Benefits these days are an incredibly important part of the compensation for workers. It means a great deal to families when people can cover their spouses or cover their children. Gay and Lesbian families need the same protections."

Community activist Florentino M. Lopez addressed the challenges faced by LGBT Latinos. In addition to workplace fairness, he spoke about immigration reform, marriage equality and the effects of HIV. "The end of discrimination is the beginning of the celebration of our differences and the understanding that only in diversity will we find the road to create the American dream," he said. "The path is not only to translate from one language to another, or to hire a person who took a course in another language or who happened to have lived abroad as a foreigner, but to open our minds and hearts to the fact that we are a multicultural society, multilingual and rich in diversity; that each individual brings something to the continuing progress of this country."

The panel was followed by small break out groups to solicit community input. "I am grateful to Lambda Legal who organized [community] events like the one in Seattle all across the country," said Friedes. "They are correct to highlight the need for ENDA, the incredible success we have had in the last few years in passing state and local laws to protect LGBT workers and the need for people to know their rights and whom to contact in case of a problem. Lambda is also correct in educating people that benefit packages are an important part of a worker's compensation and that without marriage equality there can never be true workplace equality. Lambda is doing great work to get domestic partners of public sector employees the benefits they deserve and need by filing lawsuits."

The event was also co-sponsored by eighteen local, state and national organizations and government entities. They include: The Pride Foundation, Seattle Office for Civil Rights, Seattle Human Rights Commission, Seattle Women's Commission, Seattle Commission for Sexual Minorities, American Friends Service Committee, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Transgender Law Center, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Greater Seattle Business Association, ACLU of Washington, Q Law, Pride at Work and El Centro de la Raza.

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